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Who’s Minding Your Strategy?

When you look at successful, high performance organizations, one of the main things you realize is that they look at strategy creation and strategy execution as key business processes. These two processes together can be called a company’s dynamic strategy management process. I’m going to refer to these strategy-related business performance management processes in this way during this blog but whatever you want to call it, the high performance organizations that we all want to emulate are serious about executing this important business process at the highest level possible.

In most organizations, whether you realize it or not, the majority of core business processes are managed by someone or some team. In fact, many organizations are organized functionally in support of functional business process execution. For example, the VP of HR oversees an organization’s HR processes, the VP of Sales oversees a company’s sales processes, etc. You get what I mean.

Now – what about the strategy management process? Is this a recognized process in your organization and, if it is, who oversees it in the role of process owner?

If your company is like most organizations, you can probably point to some department, function, or group that has accountability for the strategy creation component of the dynamic strategy management process. It could be your finance department or maybe it’s your sales department (it often depends on the nature of your business). Is it your executive leadership team or is it your Board of Directors? Or, does your company have a strategic planning department (I usually only see this in very large organizations)? Often, the role here is less about managing your company’s strategy creation process and more about just doing it.

So you can probably name someone in your organization that seems to be “in charge” of the strategy creation process. Now, what about the strategy execution process? Who’s in charge of managing that process in your organization?

Based on my experience, I will bet that most of you said that everyone in your organization is in charge of executing strategy with the heads of the departments having accountability for what gets done and the progress that gets made in their respective departments.

Ok, that might cover the DOING part but that still leaves the question: Who is managing your strategy execution process?  Is it your CEO? Or is it the COO? Actually, if you’re like most companies, the answer is no one is.

We all know that following through and actually putting business strategy into action is one of the toughest nuts to crack in organizations today. There are lots of reasons why this is the case and we can add poor management of the strategy management process to the list of causes for strategy execution failure.

One of the most significant investments an organization can make is to (1) recognize that the dynamic strategy management process is as an important core business process as their financial management, equipment and asset management, and learning and development processes, and (2) designate someone in the organization as the process owner of the dynamic strategy management process.

What is the role of a process owner? Let’s look at what it is and what it isn’t.

According to Businessdictionary.com, a process owner is “(The) Person who has the ultimate responsibility for the performance of a process in realizing its objectives measured by key process indicators, and has the authority and ability to make necessary changes.”  A process owner IS NOT the sole person responsible for executing the process they oversee. While they (and their team) may have some execution accountabilities within the process they manage, quite often many people across the organization have joint accountability for completing elements of the process. More often than not, a process owner must rely on others to execute the process according to the standards/operating procedures they have designed (hint: a wise process owner will get input from the people who execute the process when designing and improving process specifications). Frequently, a process owner is not in the position to demand that others follow the process (often the case in matrix organizations). This means that one of the most valuable skills a process owner can have in their arsenal is strong influencing skills as they can use the power of persuasion to convince people to follow the process as it is designed.

So – successful, high performance organizations will identify and define their dynamic strategy management process and assign a recognized process owner to it. There are no strict guidelines about who this person should be – the role does not naturally fall to one functional department or another. What I would say is that the selected process owner should be passionate about your company, the topic of business performance, and the role the strategy management process plays in achieving better business performance results. The selected person should also have a good understanding of how the business works and what the possibilities are. Finally, your new process owner should be a respected person in your organization – this will help when convincing and cajoling is required to ensure that process execution by others takes place!

One important piece of advice I would offer is to have this process owner report directly to the CEO – this gives the dynamic strategy management process the line of sight and profile it deserves and helps the process owner gain greater respect from their peers.

The roles and responsibilities of the strategy management process owner include: designing, defining, and continuously improving the dynamic strategy management process; defining the strategy governance process; creating and managing the accountability framework and network of people that participate in the execution of the dynamic strategy management process (i.e. strategic objective owners, balanced scorecard data and commentary owners, strategic project owners); oversee and facilitate the execution of the strategy creation/re-creation, strategy cascading (i.e. translating corporate strategy down to business units, departments, teams, and individuals), organizational alignment (including linking other business processes (e.g. budgeting and human capital planning), key business projects and initiatives, and tools and resource plans with the strategy), and balanced scorecard and strategy management review meeting processes; gather process performance data and information and use it to improve process design and/or performance; defining and (ensuring the) execution of a strategy communication plan; facilitating the bi-directional sharing of strategic information and knowledge across the organization;  facilitating deeper, cross-functional organizational integration; and facilitating the creation of a strategic-focused organization and culture.

I know that this looks like a big job and it is. However, don’t automatically assume that it will require an army of people to carry out these activities. For example, in small to medium sized organizations, we may be only talking about one person/FTE (a true story: when I worked for a Canadian Group insurer with 1,200 employees spread across the country, I acted alone as the dynamic strategy management process owner and was eventually able to add additional accountabilities to my plate as our strategy management process matured) while in large corporations, a few people may be required (a group referred to as the Office of Strategy Management by Kaplan and Norton). My advice is to staff the role and/or team adequately but conservatively to avoid adding unnecessary bulk and bureaucracy to your strategy management process.

High performance organizations recognize the value of the dynamic strategy management process in their success and avoid leaving process execution to chance. Having a process owner in place ensures that: (1) strategy creation/re-creation and execution actually take place in the organization; (2) the process is delivering the expected results and benefits for the organization; and (3) the strategy management process is continually improved so that it works optimally for the organization.

So – who’s minding the strategy in YOUR organization?

 

Looking for more information on the topics of strategy creation and execution? Access our FREE downloads at: http://www.jetrichardson.ca/publications.htm

4 Comments

  1. Verna Derosier
    Apr 19, 2011

    Is it safe to say that the processes are being handled by each and every employee in the company? Each worker has his own task to handle, and I believe that those tasks are essential to keep the company standing, and they have their own strategies of getting the job done. Correct me if I’m wrong, alright? Oh, this was a good read, by the way.

  2. Sandy Richardson
    Apr 19, 2011

    Hi Verna: Thank you for your comments!
    The work completed in organizations generally can be categorized as either processes or projects. Ad hoc work requests do come up and we can give them a special category but they are usually a new activity (i.e. a project) or involve accelerating the completion of an existing process. All employees will either contribute to business success through the work they do in a business process (or processes) and/or a business project. It is critical that business processes and projects be aligned with the business strategy to ensure that they are contributing optimally to the success of the business.
    When business processes have process owners, these owners will usually ensure that the process has performance standards and objectives in place and they will assess (measure) that the process is performing as required. Smart process owners will involve the employees that execute/work in the process in managing and improving the process. This helps ensure that the strategies for process completion are aligned and that all employees can learn from and leverage the good ideas of their colleagues. The best performin companies always ensure that, while employees can innovate in the way work gets done, there is alignment in what employees are trying to achieve through their work and how they achieve it – it’s necessay for strategy execution excellence and process performance excellence too. Is this the way you see it?
    I hope that this helps and answers your question. Just let me know if you have follow up questions and/or want to chat further on this topic. Cheers! Sandy

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